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Award for... “cultural meanings”

The James Mace Prize 2016 for Civic Activism in Political Writing was awarded to the well-known historian of culture Serhii Trymbach
29 November, 12:45

This year, the most prestigious prize for civic activism in political writing was awarded at a difficult time. Now that we are honoring the memory of millions of the victims of the Holodomor, one of the greatest disasters in the history of Ukraine, this country in fact remains in a state of war. We receive daily reports from the east about the death and wounding of our defenders. The aggressor continues to commit genocide against Ukrainians in the Donbas, and the occupied Crimea is a place of relentless persecutions and human rights violations. Under these conditions, it is important for every Ukrainian to show active citizenship, and, accordingly, the main principle of this prize assumes particular significance in such a difficult time.

“The new winner of the James Mace Prize is… Serhii Trymbach!” Yurii SHCHERBAK, writer, chairman of the James Mace Prize Public Board, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine, announces at the Den’s editorial office.

This is the first time in the seven-year history of the James Mace Prize that this high award is won not by a professional journalist, historian, or philosopher but by a culture history researcher – representative of a rare, but necessary, specialty.

“In my opinion, the James Mace Prize is one of the most prestigious national awards that are conferred on political writers, journalists, and authors. It is not a local prize of the newspaper Den but a really honorary award which shows the level of our political writing in general. Therefore, I was very pleased to vote for giving this prize to Serhii Trymbach,” Shcherbak continues. “He is a well-known film critic, political writer, a person who serves the interests of not only Ukrainian cinema, but also Ukrainian culture in general. He is one of the most prominent political writers who contribute to the newspaper Den and, in my view, fully corresponds to the level the James Mace Prize requires. We know a pleiad of brilliant Den contributors – Serhii Hrabovskyi, Ihor Siundiukov, Ihor Losiev, Valentyn Torba… They are all James Mace Prize winners. They are worthy of this title, for they have made an outstanding contribution to Ukrainian political writing. Mr. Trymbach is also a brilliant and noted author. He was until recently chairman of the League of Filmmakers and took an active part in the development of this very important art. He has expressed his reflections and impressions in a very active and interesting journalistic style, publishing his topical articles in Den. Mr. Trymbach follows James Mace’s guideline – he describes our post-genocidal society, he diagnoses the things that hinder the development of our culture, particularly cinema. He took an active part in de-communization and de-Sovietization, which James Mace used to call for. His articles are always brilliant by form and full of profound content. I have no doubt that his name will be as bright in the pleiad of prize winners as those of his predecessors.”

Den’s readers and this country’s cultural community have long known the name of Serhii Trymbach. He is a renowned Ukrainian film critic, scriptwriter, ex-chairman of the National League of Ukrainian Filmmakers, winner of the Ukrainian State Oleksandr Dovzhenko Prize (2008). He is also the author of many publications on the historical and contemporary aspects of Ukrainian cinema. He has been a Den contributor since 1999, when he wrote “Dovzhenko Is Our Almost Everything. Non-Jubilatory Reflections on the Great Artist’s 105th Birth Anniversary.” Incidentally, the Holodomor is also Trymbach’s object of research and reconsideration. He wrote the script of the film The Living (directed by Serhii Bukovskyi in 2008). But the main reason why the jury selected this candidature is his readiness to always show active citizenship and adhere to his principles in promoting national culture. “Over and over again I recall that when Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favor of the war effort, he simply replied: ‘Then what are we fighting for?’ Funding culture, cinema, the media… Our superprofessional and superpatriotic Ministry of Finance plans to earmark ‘as many as’ a hundred million hryvnias for cinema in 2017. How are we going to liberate Donbas residents when their brains have been shelled by Moscow’s ‘information guns’ for so many years? Army guns are useless here – is it not clear to anybody in the postindustrial era?” Trymbach says in one of his latest blogs – “Why Are We Fighting?” – on Den’s website.

“James Mace said in his works the truth we were not prepared to accept: ‘It is the Ukrainian SSR that gained independence.’ Everybody thought: what does he mean? We are an independent country now… But this true diagnosis was to be heard and understood. In the past 25 years, Soviet Ukraine has been not so much dismantled as plundered. And, concurrently, almost nothing has been built. By this prize, we began to frame a concept which must be applied in every school, university, editorial office, and, after all, in the minds of journalists,” Den’s editor-in-chief Larysa IVSHYNA said. “It is important that the ongoing memorial week should be etched on the memory of Ukrainians and that we should reconsider the slightly forgotten important topics. Prize winners accentuated a certain topic every year. We can duly assess now what the laureates have done. This year we have put a special emphasis. It follows from the words Churchill said when asked to cut culture funding in favor of the war effort: ‘Then what are we fighting for?’ The entire life must be permeated with cultural meanings. It has always been important for Den to understand which country we are coming out of. It did not seem to me in the 1990s that we were throwing away all our past and beginning from scratch. For this reason, Den has always tried to preserve the Ukraine of Viktor Glushkov, Oleg Antonov, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Viktor Nekrasov, Valerii Lobanovsky… Many of these people may not have been in raptures over the pattern in which Ukraine gained independence – they thought the country was unprepared for this. But even in the Soviet format, they were doing their best to keep Ukraine afloat. Cultural continuity and increment are of paramount importance to me.”

“It is the name of James Mace that causes us, Ukrainians, to think reverentially about what an individual can do if he or she has set themselves a clear goal that comes from their very essence. For we often lose heart once we come across even a minor difficulty. Mace overcame the inertness and unwillingness of Western intellectuals and statesmen who wouldn’t hear (some of them are still doing so) about either the Ukrainian Holodomor or the Stalinist regime’s war against Ukraine and Ukrainians. He broke through the wall, and others followed him. He did what, for example, British journalist Gareth Jones, a courageous, enduring, and penetrating analyst of the Ukrainian tragedy, failed to do in the 1930s. (I happened to work on the film The Living which deals with Jones.) Mace’s example also proves the necessity of learning the lessons of history,” James Mace Prize 2016 winner Serhii TRYMBACH says. “Unfortunately, this is not the case in Ukraine. We never truly reflected on what happened to us at the turn of the 1990s. As a matter of fast, making ritual bows to Taras Shevchenko and his Muse (muses!), we haven’t yet taken the trouble to think over and grasp the meaning  of his Epistle to us – ‘living, dead, and as yet unborn.’ One of the results is that banal plunderers and thieves are ruling here in the guise of liberals. Shevchenko’s word did not and will not reach them, for they are ‘deaf, they do not hearken, they are trading with their fetters, using truth to bargain.’ Let us heed Shevchenko. Let us heed Oleksandr Dovzhenko who repeatedly called on Ukrainians to come to their senses and listen carefully to their own selves and to the course of history. Let us heed Mace, a great American and a great Ukrainian. I thank the newspaper Den for making a lot of efforts in this direction. I thank the James Mace Prize jury for appreciating my work in the fields of culture and memory. Let us break down this cliff, and we will sooner or later achieve our goal.”

By tradition, the presentation of the James Mace Prize at Den’s editorial office became a good occasion for an open debate among like-minded friends, this country’s best political writers. Among the participants were the abovementioned Larysa Ivshyna, initiator of the prize, editor-in-chief of Den/The Day; Yurii Shcherbak, writer, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine, chairman of the competition’s public board; as well as Stanislav Kulchytskyi, Doctor of History, professor, head of the department of Ukraine’s 1920s-1930s history of the Institute of Ukrainian History; earlier prize winners Ihor Siundiukov, editor of the “History and I” section of Den; Ivan Kapsamun, editor of the politics section of Den; and Valentyn Torba, a journalist at Den’s politics section.

“I think it is an absolutely right decision, for we should proceed on the premise that culture is an intellectual domain which is, like never before, of vital importance to Ukrainians. The point is that, in the ongoing war in the east, we are in fact defending not only our sovereignty and independence (the first undeniable external dimension), but also culture from the invasion of barbarity. One must be aware of this,” says Ihor SIUNDIUKOV, James Mace Prize 2010 winner, editor of Den’s “History and I” section. “Besides, without culture, intellectual freedom, and, at the same time, the equally important intellectual responsibility, we will never have, by definition, any successful reforms or progress in general. It is impossible in principle. Dishonesty, falsehood, cruelty in politics and business are, above all, the result of a zero level of culture. Let us not forget that privatization of opinions and awareness also aggravates our pressing problems. As for our laureate, if he had done one thing only – scientifically processing and publishing Oleksandr Dovzhenko’s unabridged diaries, – he would have already made a major contribution to our culture. But this gentleman, a profound intellectual, is also the author of brilliant culture-related and historical essays on the pages of Den, mostly in the ‘Culture’ section. His texts draw a wide response and provoke reflections and discussions, and occupy a proper place in our intellectual sphere and journalism. ‘You should look for a way out where there was a way in,’ a popular maxim says. Therefore, in search of a way out, we should, to some extent, get back to the way in, to our eternal sources which we have lost and, as a result, reached a deadlock. Brilliant articles, essays, and books by Serhii Trymbach are making a very essential contribution to this extremely important cause.”

“The American James Mace showed persistence and adherence to his principles in exploring such an important and tragic subject as the Holodomor. And it is very important that Den supported Mace and gave him access to the nationwide readership. But it is not only about the painful subject of the Holodomor. James’s struggle for justice reached out far beyond the limits of his sphere of activity – it was the manifestation of his active citizenship. This is in fact reflected in the name of the prize. For this reason, the laureates were various people from different spheres, who not necessarily researched and spotlighted only the Holodomor as genocide of Ukrainians,” said Ivan KAPSAMUN, James Mace Prize 2015 winner, editor of Den’s section of politics. “Last year I had the privilege of receiving this prize for my longtime and consistent coverage of the well-known high-profile Gongadze-Podolsky case which continues to hold this country in the past because no legal answer has been given for 16 years about who ordered the crimes against journalist Georgy Gongadze and public activist Oleksii Podolsky. This in turn means that none of the governments have been willing to reform the state. Therefore, in spite of a series of mass-scale protests and bloody events, this country is still within an oligarchic clan reference frame laid by the second president Leonid Kuchma. Awarding a prize for an active stand in a crucial topic that concerns the contemporary history of Ukraine means that this prize is very significant.”

“In general, I think that the topmost (and not only) echelons in various spheres of Ukrainian life are short of people who adhere to their principles and think, first of all, about the interests of society and the state rather than about their own interests,” Kapsamun continues. “And I am highly pleased to hand over the baton of a James Mace Prize winner to the well-known film expert Serhii Trymbach, who is a great artist of today and, what is more, displays civic activism in the field of culture. Trymbach writes in one of his latest Den articles: ‘One of the consequences of a minimized influence of culture-related communities (not only the artistic leagues) is the diminishing status of the nation’s culture. And in some regions, above all in Crimea and the Donbas, this culture, including cinema, has been washed away altogether. In essence, a part of Ukraine’s territory was given up at that very time [in the 1990s. – Author] – what happened in 2014 was a logical result of this ‘strategy’.’ He hit the nail on the head, so to speak, for an absolutely similar situation emerged in the political field, when Kuchma in fact gave local clans control over the Donbas as long ago as the 1990s in exchange for loyalty and electoral support. Therefore, the current problems of war and loss of territories and human lives is a consequence of those days’ politics and culture. Trymbach receives this award quite deservedly, for, in the course of many years, he has been ‘diagnosing’ Ukrainian cinema and culture in general and, what is more, he gives a recipe – in theoretical, practical, administrative, and artistic terms – of what is to be done. And he is doing it himself! It is of paramount importance to a post-genocidal society.”

Ihor Losiev, James Mace Prize 2009 winner, Candidate of Sciences (Philosophy), a well-known political writer and a Den contributor, failed to attend the award ceremony for health reasons. But, even staying in hospital, he had his congratulations sent to the new laureate by phone.

“I think Serhii Trymbach is quite a worthy candidature as James Mace Prize winner. It is the right choice, and I congratulate the competition’s jury on this. In my view, this will be of benefit to the prize, the newspaper, and our culture as a whole,” Ihor LOSIEV says. “It is very gratifying that the editorial board and the prize commission made their choice in favor of none other than a culture person at this hard time. After all, we are fighting to preserve and further develop Ukrainian culture, and Serhii Trymbach is one of its noted representatives. I have read a lot of his articles in your newspaper and other publications. My impression is that he has always displayed what can be rightfully called active citizenship. I am convinced that this person will carry the title of James Mace Prize winner with honor in the future, and this award will inspire him to do new research and make new discoveries in the field of culture.”

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